The Voice of the Elite Loves His Nanny

We expected food-tax advocate, frozen-dinner snob, and comparative-advantage illiterate Mark Bittman to love New York Supernanny Michael Bloomberg’s big-soda Prohibition. (It’s not like Prohibition has ever gone wrong in the past or anything.) Just as the multi-billionaire diet scold outdid himself—in the opinion of The New York Times editorial board, no less—Bittman outdid even his high standards in effusive praise for government meddling in personal food decisions.

Bittman might vociferously object that a 20-ounce (or even a one-ounce) soda is somehow “non-food” because it isn’t nutrient-dense. (Angel food cake isn’t nutrient dense either, but we’ll come to that soon enough.) Of course, he’d also come after things that are to any reasonable person unambiguously nutritious food. He had this to say in response to the hypothetical, expressed by us and others, that Bloomberg’s ilk might come for poppy-seed bagels, pizza, or pastrami next:

And if you believe that limiting our “right” to purchase soda is a slippery slope, one that will lead to defining which foods are nutritious and which aren’t […] you’re right. It’s the beginning of better public health policy, policy that is good for the health of our citizenry. [Our emphasis]

But that’s just the most salient of many problems with Bittman’s latest screed. Bittman manages to not only confirm every warning issued about the soda ban being but a beginning of food Prohibition, but also to engage in his typical hypocrisy. Bittman declares by analogy that added sugar is toxic.

That is, of course, in keeping with the current received wisdom from such “luminaries” as Robert “No Cookies Under 18” Lustig. But should we be so sure that today’s demon, sugar, won’t be tomorrow’s sweetheart? A quick perusing of the dietary advice of experts through the decades shows an increasingly fickle “consensus” on what should be demonized and what shouldn’t. In the eighties when “fat” was the ingredient we loved to hate, would Bloomberg have limited the portion size of guacamole or containers of nuts?

Anyway, the back-door assertion that added sugar was some kind of poison sent us back to the work that made Bittman’s name, his cookbook How to Cook Everything. Sure enough, it contains desserts with non-negligible amounts of added sugar! No stranger to the caloric stratosphere — its hamburger bests the foodie-derided Big Mac in that category — Bittman’s bestselling book boasts dessert after decadent dessert that exceeds one cup in added sugar per batch: soft-fruit sorbet, blueberry cobbler, lemon meringue pie, peanut brittle and — ah yes — angel food cake.

It gets better. Bittman provides a recipe for “sugar syrup,” a confection that he helpfully informs us we can use for “sweetening iced drinks, including tea, coffee, and cocktails.” The latte loophole lives!

So either Bittman is guilty of peddling poison, or there’s more going on here than sincere expressions of disinterested concern for our collective health. Bittman is simply incapable of understanding that there are value systems other than his own. Bittman may paraphrase and cite the Oliver Wendell Holmes principle that “your right to harm yourself stops when I have to pay for it” when calling for sugar consumption limits, but his own book promotes consuming sugar. Should we tax “bad” cookbooks? What’s going on?

In a word, snobbery (of the highest order), which explains the latte loophole well enough. For more words, we offer social commentator James Lileks’s take:

A culture that redefines food choices as moral issues will demonize the people who don’t share the tastes of the priest class. A culture that elevates eating to some holistic act of ethical self-definition – localvore, low-carbon-impact food, fair trade, artisanal cheese – will find the casual carefree choices of the less-enlightened as an affront to their belief system. Leave it to Americans to invent a Puritan strain of Epicureanism.

We know Bittman puts himself firmly in the “priest class.” Now he’s demonizing the rest of us. How long until he argues, to adapt Bittman’s cited Justice Holmes, that three generations of fatties are enough?

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